A beginner's guide to Halloween horror movies
The end of summer draws near, taking with it extended evenings and blissful vacation weather. Even though it will be a whole year before summer comes back, Halloween has some exciting and spooky traditions to look forward to, like corn mazes, hot apple cider and scary movies!
Like many parents, mine convinced me I wouldn’t like horror movies and, after seeing Gore Verbinski’s “The Ring” and John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” at a young age, I agreed with them. That is, until only a few years ago, making me very late to the game. When I finally mustered the courage to buy a horror movie ticket, I left feeling a calm I’d never experienced before. I guess sitting in a pool of anxiety and suspense for about two hours does that to a person.
Horror affects everyone in varying ways, and the reason an individual chooses to watch these movies is dependent on the person. Some like thrills or jump scares and some like coming face to face with the things that go bump in the night.
A widowed mother struggles with her young son, who insists a dark, shadowy figure is haunting them. When the son feels the Babadook is near, he falls in to a shrieking tantrum that is just as scary as the supernatural monster.
Sometimes a movies addresses a larger issue in a way that isn’t obnoxious and didactic. “The Babadook” is one of those times. Even though the Babadook itself represents a significant mental health problem, the movie never gets too big or forgets the characters’ lives, which is why it instantly became one of my favorites.
“Mother!” is a controversial film. I could go on for hours explaining why I feel its message is so great. For now, though, I’ll just say that the way the film scares the audience is what sets it apart from all others.
Jennifer Lawrence plays the title character. She lives in an old house, which we find out has been burned down. She restored it, even though it’s her husband’s (Javier Bardem) house and all he does is write for his followers.
Every shot comes from Lawrence’s character’s perspective, capturing her reactions and emotions. When visitors show up to the house against her wishes and selfishly disrespect the house, it felt just as if they were using and abusing me. I’ve never been as terrified of people being rude and self-centered as I was when I watched “Mother!”.
Obviously, the story is great. It’s Stephen King. The reason I choose this particular version is the cast. First, Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise – brilliant. The children, though, are going places. Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Finn Wolfhard will be — mark my words — legendary stars. “It” is their beginning movie. The story is good, the scares are good, but I just know this was a pivotal moment in these kids’ careers.
If you know scary movies, you should know “Psycho.” Sometimes, older scary movies lose their potency because plot twists have been spoiled or borrowed from time and again over the years. Although I knew going in what the plot twist was, “Psycho” has a surprise ending that works whether you know about it or not. That is the real test of a good story.
This is one of the movies I watched before I was into horror because of a class assignment. It’s still exceptional. Nicole Kidman plays Grace Stewart, the mother of two children who are photosensitive. They live their entire lives in the dark and, if that isn’t bad enough, Stewart becomes convinced their home is being haunted. Talk about twist endings, though!
A young vegetarian woman gets hazed at Veterinarian school and becomes a cannibal. What she experiences before she realizes she needs human flesh is frightening because the craving manifests itself as a disease. The movie may not have the greatest scares, but it definitely has the best ending a cannibal movie can have. Let’s just say it comes full circle.
“A Quiet Place”
What an experience! The best any movie can hope for is to make you feel you are part of the action and “A Quiet Place” nails it (pun intended). A family lives in a world terrorized by blind monsters with wicked accurate hearing and agility so quick that the creature is basically invisible. To survive, they pour sand to deafen their footsteps, crochet game pieces to eliminate the thud of solids hitting the board, and communicate almost entirely through American Sign Language.
“A Quiet Place” pulled me in so entirely that it felt as if any noise I made or someone around me would blow it for the whole family. Popcorn is not a great snack for this film.
To be honest, “Get Out” and “A Quiet Place” are pretty much tied in my personal ranking. “Get Out” speaks to tensions that can be felt by anyone anywhere at anytime. In the film, a black man Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) accompanies his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to her wealthy parents’ house for the weekend. Imagine being in Chris’s position. I’ve been in situations where I was the only woman, and felt powerless and tense. The fact that something seriously wrong is going on in “Get Out” behind the curtains doesn’t do anything to help ease the tension. The story gets real weird, real quick and audiences are all the better for it.
Some may not consider “Annihilation” a horror film, but it definitely hits a spot for me that resembles fear. Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist, is married to Kane (Oscar Isaac), a government soldier, who goes away on missions for long periods at a time. On his last outing, he came back but only partly. Good timing for Lena to visit him because a group of women are about to enter the mysterious shimmering bubble from which Kane returned. Perhaps she can find answers as to what is ailing Kane. She does, but not in the way you might expect.
The reason this movie qualifies for my list is because of the state it put me in when I was watching it. The bubble is some kind of alien life force that expands over the land and changes the Earth at a molecular level. Many of the changes are beautiful and strange, but everything is slightly uncomfortable. As Lena and her team trek further in, the more uncomfortable the changes get. Creatures and plants evolve rapidly and drastically, and the closer to the source they venture the more wild and unpredictable everything is. When I thought the movie couldn’t push my comfort zone anymore, it did. I don’t think I’ve recovered yet, and it’s been months.
“The Purge: Election Year”
Finally, “The Purge: Election Year” will forever hold a sacred place on my list. “Why?” you ask. This is where it started for me. When I saw the trailer for this film, I still didn’t think I could handle scary movies. I was intrigued, though. I had so many questions. “Election Year” is the third installment in “The Purge” franchise. How did it get that far? What is the idea behind the Purge in the first place? My curiosity got the better of me, and I caved. I was shaking in the leather recliner chair at my favorite theater. Everything about the movie kept me on edge. I don’t think the movie scared me, per se, but it kept me on the edge, ready to run or fight at any moment. Riding home the car afterwards, I remember simply sitting in the quiet, watching the sunlight illuminate the colors around me and feeling my chest hollow and expand with each breath – a blanket of tranquility wrapped around me.
Maybe “The Purge: Election Year” isn’t your favorite scary movie, but I’ll always remember the impact it had on me. My first (intentional) scary movie.
EDITOR’S NOTE: After writing up this personal top ten list, Cheryl interviewed the entire Moviebill staff about their favorites and then watched them herself. Check back next week for the fill list and her reactions.
Cheryl Bauder is a contributing intern at Moviebill. She studied English Literature at California State University, Long Beach and previous wrote for 22 West Magazine, specializing in movie reviews.